Tourists flee forest fire in Greek resort

Tourists flee forest fire in Greek resort 

22 August 2006

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Halkidiki, Greece — Hundreds of British tourists staying in a Greek seaside resort were evacuated last night after a forest fire burned out of control and threatened their hotels.

The blaze, burning on several fronts on the Halkidiki peninsula in northern Greece, took hold close to the resorts of Polychrono and Hanioti, destroying houses and cars. Tourists and residents were led to the beach following the evacuation of homes, hotels and campsites.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said there had been no reports of British injuries and none of locals being seriously hurt. She said a consular team was in close contact with the local authorities and fire brigade, as well as the tour operators. “A team from our embassy in Athens is travelling to the area to offer help to British nationals and we hope to send a team from the UK as part of our rapid deployment response.”

It is understood that beaches in the area were packed with hundreds of people as they fled from the fire. Many tourists and residents were gathered by coast guards and taken by boats across the Gulf of Cassandra. Others spent the night on the beach, sleeping on sunbeds, while some opted to flee by car towards the port city of Thessaloniki, 50 miles (80km) to the north.

Paul Ruebig, an Austrian member of the European parliament, was among those evacuated. He told the Austria Press Agency: “We don’t know where to go. It’s burning at the front and the back. People here are panicking and are fearing for their lives.”

A spokesman for the Federation of Tour Operators said about 1,500 of its members’ customers were believed to be “in and around” the peninsula affected by the fires. “As a precautionary measure the local authorities have evacuated some customers and local people from their accommodations,” he said. “Tour operators are also working closely with the relevant local authorities and will ensure that customers are returned to their accommodation when it is safe to do so.”

Last night a Thomas Cook spokeswoman said about 400 of its customers were evacuatedfrom three hotels.

First Choice, which believed about 200 of holidaymakers were affected, said its representatives had been “going around the town telling everyone to go on the beach so we can account for them”.

Greek fire chief Andreas Kois said staff was struggling to control the flames. “This is a very difficult fire because it’s in an inhabited area. The winds are strong and conditions are bad,” he said.

The fire broke out amid a heatwave across south-east Europe. Temperatures in some areas are reaching 42C. It is thought the flames may have been fanned by a seasonal northern wind called the meltemi. Local officials said there was a possibility that the fires had been started deliberately.


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